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Wine Dark Brew

The grape haunts the brews of the season

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These are sour times. Dark times. Good times for dark and sour beer.

The hazy days of summer IPA are long gone, and the good dead grape is settled down for its long sleep in casks of oak. In the quiet after the commotion of harvest, a feral black cat stalks the vineyard, forever interrupting the frantic errand of some small creature scuttling under fallen leaves, stocking up on seeds as night draws nearer each day.

Though the grapes had saved their sweetest for last, there's a sourness in the air now, as left-behind and fallen grapes and apples play host to much smaller creatures' feast: Lactobacillus, Brettanomyces and other unruly guests make a cruel mockery of the good work of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the sacred yeast of the winemaking and brewing world.

But in beer, what's gone all wrong can be made right, explains Lagunitas Brewing Company's "head brew-monster" Jeremy Marshall about its limited release, Sonoma Farmhouse Brett stout. "This beer started almost as a mistake," Marshall says in brewery notes. "Back in 2010, a batch of imperial stout didn't go exactly as planned, so we put it into some red wine barrels, with a little brett. A couple years later, we took that beer out of barrels and found it had changed into something different and wonderful."

Lagunitas-strong, at an imperial 11.3 percent alcohol by volume (abv), this monster brew is deep and engaging, not hot—a dark harmony of vinous heritage and all those bugs that are bad for wine. But this October limited release is hard to find; get bottles while you can at the brewery's swag shop for $10.

For that wine-dark taste without the sour, try Plow Brewing's Irons in the Fire porter aged in Pinot Noir barrels, on tap or in a crowler (a growler in a can) to go for $15.

The hue of leaves turning red, Fogbelt Brewing's Methuselah ($18) is brewed with light pilsner malt, but aged with Zinfandel grapes for two years in wine barrels. The tart taste is deepened by a fruity, raisiny undertone, with something of that sour funk of old books nuancing its slightly beery bouquet. Which brings us to Barrel Brothers' Leather-Bound Books ($18), a dusky brown sour ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels with unspecified dark fruits. Like damp straw and healthy compost, there's something farm-yardy but fresh and sweet about the Leather-Bound, and it's tarter, with more of a fig than raisin character of the darker Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Belgian sour that it resembles. My spirits are lifted already.

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